The season might be young but there are definitely a lot of things to talk about in regards to the Hurricanes first seven games of the year. They've managed to snag seven points in the standings despite playing some tough opponents, including both of last season's Western Conference finalists, and we've seen the club make some defensive improvements, as well. With every positive, however, there has been a negative to counter it with and the power play is right at the top of the list.
This isn't a new issue for the Canes, as their power play has regularly been one of the worst in the NHL for years now and there really isn't a reason for it to still be this bad, at least on paper. With players like Eric Staal, Alex Semin and Jeff Skinner on the first unit and youngster Ryan Murphy with the club now, one would think that the Canes power play should have a pretty good power play but that hasn't been the case thus far. They have only four goals on 32 5-on-4 opportunities and rank 23rd in the league in power play efficiency.
When you have over 45 minutes of 5-on-4 time over seven games, four goals is not good enough and they aren't creating many chances either. The Canes have created 52.8 shots per 60 minutes during 5v4 play, which might look like a lot but iit ranks only 17th in the NHL, which is not good enough if this team wants to find it's way back to the post-season. The Canes even strength play has taken a step back this year and will likely find themselves in trouble if the power play continues to sputter.
What exactly is wrong with their power play, though? They have enough talent to be in the top half of the league in power play efficiency and Muller has done good work with the Montreal Canadiens power play in the past. Why is it so hard for the Hurricanes to get anything going on their power play when they should be a lot better on paper?
Going by my observations, I'm not seeing much wrong with the initial personnel or set-up of the Hurricanes power play (aside from Drayson Bowman playing the slot on the first unit but I'll get to that later). The execution, however, has been another story. Carolina's players have been guilty of some very poor decision-making and it often leads to the entire power play losing its composure. There were a few examples of this in Tuesday's game against the Blackhawks, which I will outline after the jump.
There are a lot of examples of poor decision making that I can dig out, but the most egregious one I can think of at the moment came in the third period of Tuesday's game against the Blackhawks. The Hurricanes were granted a late power play with the score tied and had a huge opportunity to possibly get a late lead. Unfortunately, their power play could not connect and they ended up going to overtime and losing in the shootout. The power play wasn't the only reason they lost, but it did play a huge factor. The worst part of it is that the Canes initial set-up on the power play was strong and they had a good opportunity to create some chances, but a couple of bad decisions ended up throwing it off the rails. Let's look at it from the beginning.
Here we see the Canes showing a hybrid 1-3-1 look on their power play with defenseman Andrej Sekera manning the point, Alex Semin on the half boards, Drayson Bowman in the slot, Tuomo Ruutu manning the front of the net and Eric Staal as the trigger-man, alternating from a point position to inside the face-off circle. Sekera currently has the puck and is faking a shot so that he can deliver a slap pass to Staal, who will be drifting to the right faceoff circle. This is a fine set-up to help get the power play started.
Sekera makes his move and sets up a one-timer for Staal at the top of the faceoff circle. This is somewhat of a low-percentage shot since it's from long-range, but Ruutu being parked in front of the net could turn it into a decent scoring chance, especially if Staal gets it on net. Sekera got the pass off quick enough so that the Hawks penalty killers don't have time to get down and block the shot.
Eric got the shot on net but the rebound drifted to the corner and Ruutu is forced to win a battle along the boards so that the Hurricanes can maintain possession. The play didn't work out, but there wasn't anything wrong with this design for the Hurricanes since they generated a chance and held onto the puck, mostly thanks to Ruutu.
The Hurricanes win the battle and are able to set things up again through Staal and Sekera at the points. This shouldn't be too much of a problem because they were able to keep the same unit on the ice and not drain that much time off the clock. However, what happens in the next few seconds is where the power play begins to fall apart for them.
The Hurricanes pass the puck around the point for a few seconds because the Hawks have all of the shooting lanes clogged. All the Hawks penalty killers do a good job of reading the play and converging on whoever has the puck so Carolina is forced to make a few tough decision. You might also notice that Ruutu is still standing there in front of the net. There's nothing wrong with that, but the Hawks don't really have to worry about him if Carolina can't get any of their shots through. This screenshot does a good job of capturing that because Semin pretty much has to make a perfect pass in order to get the puck to him in front of the. Thus, the Hurricanes are forced to work it around the point more and hopefully break open Chicago's penalty kill box.
The Canes are forced to pass teh puck around more and it eventually leads to them getting it back to Sekera at the point. It is then that he decides to say "screw it" and try to get a shot on net. Unfortunately, the Hawks still have all of the lanes clogged and Marcus Kruger (circled) is in perfect position to block Sekera's shot. With him having good position on Bowman in the slot, this doesn't bode well for Carolina.
The shot gets blocked and the rebound ends up being cleared by Chicago, draining at least 10 seconds off the clock.
Carolina is able to regain possession and set up a new power play, only instead of trying to enter the zone with control, their set-up is Sekera slamming the puck into Chicago's zone. Because of that, the only hope for the Hurricanes to get anything going on this power play is for them to win the race to the puck and wait for everyone to get onsides.
Seabrook beats Semin to the puck and Chicago can now clear the zone and drain more time off the clock. Or at least that's one thing they can do….
Seabrook was able to find Jonathan Toews open in the defensive zone and Staal, the man playing the point here, decides to back off and play conservative while Toews tries to create a shorthanded chance. Unfortunately, Toews is still able to work his way around Staal and create a chance on Ward. He didn't score, but the Hawks accomplished their goal and killed off a good chunk of Carolina's power play through this.
Carolina has time for one last rush and their second unit comes on. Jordan Staal currently has the puck here and he tries to enter the zone with control. A good idea, but three Blackhawk players converge on him and this ends up being a failed entry. They then clear the puck and drain off more time…
The Canes try to set up another play here and their strategy it enter the zone, once again, is having a defenseman slam it into Chicago's end and have someone win the race for the puck.
The Canes get to the puck, but the Hawks have time to get back and defend, which is enough for them to kill off the remaining 13-15 seconds of Carolina's power play.
Carolina did some good things early on in this power play but one bad decision (Sekera shooting the puck when he had no lane at the net) threw everything off course and they never seemed to recover from it. They tried to keep it simple when gaining the zone and it didn't result in anything. When they tried to get aggressive, they ended up forcing things and nothing happened (see Jordan entering the zone). They're correctable mistakes, but bad habits are abundant in a quick-paced game like hockey, so we're bound to see more of these in the near future. All in all, I think the Canes puck-movement could be a lot better and they could also benefit from changing up some of their play-designs.
One of the Hurricanes main set-ups on the power play is having the point-man (Sekera or Murphy) set-up a one-timer from inside the faceoff circle with Staal, Faulk or Semin pulling the trigger. They were able to get a chance on goal with this play in the third period but I feel like they rely on it too much at times. One of the reasons why the power play in the third period fell apart is because Sekera took a low-percentage shot from the point and the one-timer play they always do led to this a couple times in the Chicago game.
This is the Hurricanes first power play of the game, which was early in the second period. They already recorded two chances on net from winning the faceoff, but the Blackhawks were able to survive & clear the puck, leaving the Canes to set up a new play. This time, we have Semin leading the charge as he is able to enter the zone with control of the puck and elects to play a little chip & chase against the Chicago defenseman. Normally, I hate dump-and-chase play, but this is actually a smart move by Semin.
Why is it a smart play? Because Semin was able to get the inside edge on the defenseman and win the battle for the puck. If he held onto it, he would have likely turned it over, so getting it deep was actually the better of two options here. The Hurricanes also had favorable numbers coming, as both Drayson Bowman and Eric Staal were getting in on the forecheck.
Staal is able to get in on the forecheck and help Carolina regain possession of the puck so they can set up a play from the point.
The Canes eventually work it back to the point and Andrej Sekera is now quarterbacking the power play. He has a few options open to him and he elects to go with the "safe" play, or at least that's what it appears to be.
He works it down to Staal, who moves down to inside the faceoff circle, but instead of shooting, he tries to force a play into Bowman at the slot. It's nice to see Staal not do the predictable thing and shoot but you can see here that Bowman is blanketed by Marcus Kruger and forcing a pass to him isn't going to result in anything positive for Carolina.
The pass is broken up and Carolina is forced to re-organize but don't worry, the fun isn't over yet.
Here we see the Canes trying to regain the zone again and Semin is able to gain the line with control of the the puck. He doesn't have favorable numbers, but Semin is usually great at turning nothing into a scoring chance, which is what he does in the next frame.
Semin waits a little bit and is able to get into the slot and fires a shot on goal. He misses the net, but the Hurricanes are able to get control of the rebound and set up another play, which is good because more zone time can lead to good things on the power play.
The Canes eventually work it back to Sekera at the point (again) and try the one-timer play (again) with Semin being the one taking the shot this time.
Semin takes the one-timer from a little outside the faceoff circle and the Chicago defenseman is right in the shooting lane to block it if the pass doesn't get there quick enough. The play-design is okay since the Canes have Ruutu standing in front of the net to get to the rebound, but it doesn't mean anything if Semin's shot gets blocked or misses the net completely. The shot is also coming from a weak angle, so Semin will have to be very accurate to generate a chance out of this.
The shot ends up not getting through and the Blackhawks are able to corral the rebound and clear the puck before the Canes can really do anything. If I sound like I'm repeating myself right now it's because this is the exact same play I outlined earlier. The Canes always seem to revert to this when they are on the power play and it never results in much unless they can get a good bounce in front of the net. Relying on one-timers with traffic in front isn't a bad strategy when you have a struggling power play, but defenses eventually catch onto it when you run the same thing over and over again and the Hurricanes didn't make any adjustments at all for whatever reason. Even the second power play unit with Justin Faulk & Ryan Murphy were doing this and while they were moving the puck around better, they weren't generating many chances because Faulk was still taking shots that had little chance of getting on net or creating a rebound.
There are times when simple plays like this can work out well, but the Hurricanes just aren't making it happen now and it all comes down to their execution and decision-making on the power play. It's too bad that there's a road trip coming up because this team could benefit from some puck-movement drills and learning not to shoot when the lane isn't open. The season is still young and the mistakes are correctable, though so maybe we'll see improvement in due time.